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Sources: JohnElla Holmes, 785-532-6496,;
and Dawne Martin, 785-532-4383,
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-6415,

Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University will use a special $50,000 grant to expand university efforts for the retention and academic success of Latino students.

JohnElla Holmes, coordinator of multicultural recruitment and retention for the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dawne Martin, assistant to the dean for diversity at the College of Business Administration, are the recipients of a 2009 Semillas grant, funded by the Walmart Foundation. K-State is one of only 20 institutions to receive the grant, which is part of the nonprofit organization Excelencia in Education's "Growing What Works" national initiative to refine and replicate model education programs to advance Latino student achievement at two-year and four-year colleges. Semillas is the Spanish word for seeds.

Holmes and Martin will use the grant for Semillas de Excelencia Learning Communities, a program that expands and extends a current K-State program for recruitment and retention of Latino students to now include Latino freshmen experiences and learning communities.

Semillas de Excelencia will use the K-State Holmes Online Tracking and Programming System, a comprehensive tracking and academic program developed by Holmes to enhance the success of multicultural students on academic warning in the College of Arts and Sciences. Holmes and Martin plan to expand the system's use to all undergraduate colleges at K-State during the next three years.

Improving retention and academic success rates of Latino students is vital, Holmes said.

"Latinos are the fasting-growing college enrollment group, representing about 10 percent of all students in higher education. It is estimated that by 2020 Latinos will represent about 25 percent of the college student population," she said.

K-State's Hispanic enrollment has been climbing. In fall 2008, the university's Hispanic enrollment was 756 students, up from 675 in fall 2007.

"Consistent with national norms, K-State is experiencing an approximately 50 percent Latino retention rate. It is imperative to improve the academic performance of our Latino students," Martin said.

The goals of Semillas de Excelencia include improving the retention rate of first-year Hispanic students by 15 percent; reducing the number of Hispanic students on academic warning by 20 percent; increasing the involvement of Latino student participation in the Semillas de Excelencia program by 75 percent; and improving the graduation rates of fourth- through seventh-year students by 10 percent each year, according to Holmes and Martin.

Semillas de Excelencia program activities will be organized into three categories: academic service intervention, peer mentor development, and tracking and data analysis. The academic service intervention includes pre-semester Smart Study workshops in the fall and spring, followed by an online course in studying and college survival skills for incoming Latino freshmen students.

"The students will then be placed in groups of 25 for weekly peer group meetings with Semillas de Excelencia peer mentors," Holmes said. "Additional contact between students and peers will be through weekly online chats, student tutoring, a monthly newsletter and frequent individual meetings."

The analysis component of the program will include tracking students throughout the school year, including their mid-term grades, their student advising meetings, counseling sessions and enrollment, and their progress in the Smart Study workshops.

Martin said Semillas de Excelencia builds on the progress K-State has made in the last seven years in increasing the number of Latino students.

"The progress has been, at least in part, due to the office of diversity and dual career development and Myra Gordon, K-State's associate provost for diversity, in creating a university-wide set of committees and programs to coordinate all diversity efforts across K-State," Martin said.

These efforts are taking place at the university-level, college-level and in specific academic programs, Martin said. Among the ways K-State is already addressing issues with multicultural student recruitment and retention include the university's Commission on Multicultural Affairs; the multicultural student programs office and K-State's 23 multicultural student organizations, such as the Hispanic American Leadership Organization; corporate support for various college and university diversity programs; and the college diversity point persons in each college, who coordinate diversity activities across campus.

K-State also offers a variety of programs to assist in recruitment and retention of multicultural students, including the College for a Day program that brings high school students from economically disadvantaged areas to K-State to learn more about the university and matches them with a student mentor; the Multicultural Student Success Program, a bridge program for incoming freshmen; multicultural student scholarships; Developing Scholars Program to help underrepresented students work on research projects with faculty mentors; and the Pilots Program, which helps students with remedial academic assistance.